christian testimony

jonathan barkley

Jonathan Barkley
I LEANED ON MY HEAVENLY FATHER AFTER DAD’S KILLING

A Belfast minister has spoken of how he found strength from his Heavenly Father after his dad was shot dead by the IRA in I988.

When Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley was just two, his father, Colin Abernethy, was shot dead on a train as he attempted to get to work. But despite the devastation — or possibly because of it — Jonathan grew deeper and stronger in his Christian faith. Even so, the 28-year-old, who is now the assistant minister at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in South Belfast, remembers feeling like the odd-one-out at primary school having just one parent.

“It definitely has played a massive role in my faith; I think for me it was sort ofa catalyst towards faith,” Jonathan reflects.

“l think when something so traumatic happens at such an early age you’re looking for comfort, security and safety, and I suppose because I had lost my own father, the idea of a heavenly father became increasingly attractive to me.

“As a result of what happened my mum was very unwell for a long time and there was always that feeling of being a wee bit odd in terms of being at primary school and everybody else having two parents. But when some relatives started taking me to church that’s when I really started to find hope and security.”

After graduating from Queen’s University, Jonathan worked in events management and PR in Dublin, organising charity balls and parties and enjoying a ‘sparkle and champagne’ lifestyle.

“It was an enjoyable but ultimately superficial world,” he says. “I would be asking myself, ‘Isn’t there more to life?’ I wanted to devote myself to something deeper and longer lasting. And that meant devoting my life to serving God.” Jonathan was a regular church attender growing up in Lisburn, and was inspired by Rev Ruth Patterson, his local minister, and the first woman to fill such a role in Ireland.

‘She was an absolute hero of mine and I suppose I must have been an incredibly irritating child, coming home from church to say to my mother ‘let us pray’,” he remembers.

”It goes right back to my childhood. We would come home from church on a Sunday and if there had been a baptism I would baptise my sister’s dolls or re-enact the service.

“Then when you get to school and start talking to career advisers, being a minister is not something which is pushed sol thought about being a history teacher, but I failed A-level history so that was clearly not going to happen. And then while I was working in events and PR it came back to me that maybe this was the right thing to do.

“I first applied to become a minister at the age of 21 but I was told I was too young and that I needed to go away and get life experience, which I did.”

Jonathan continued to work in the world of publicity before finally training as a Presbyterian minister at Union College at Queen’s University, a move that surprised his friends.

“When I announced I was going to become a minister my family had already seen it coming but I suppose some of my friends were like ‘that’s a bit of a random choice!’”
Belfast’s history is marred by the violence and fighting witnessed during The Troubles, but Jonathan is adamant light always shines brightest in the darkness. ”It positions you with a unique opportunity and possibility,” he says. ”Fitzroy has always been at the heart of peace and reconciliation in the province; our minister would have been one of those who was negotiating during the Troubles and we’ve won a peace prize.

“There were some very dark times in Belfast’s history but being in that dark place provides a unique opportunity and challenge. And as a minister the absence of a father l experienced growing up means that I can empathise with the pain of others who have lost loved ones in a much more intimate way.”

While his decision to become a minister may have come as a shock to some, it has not detached arts lover Jonathan from his passions. “l think a lot of the time people assume ministers must only pray and read the Bible — but of course we are entitled to lead full lives,” he says. “My whole philosophy has always been about trying to lead an authentic life. Being a minister is obviously a huge part of my life, but it isn’t all of who l am. l still have lots of friends who I went to school with. I love going to the cinema or going out for a drink.”

Recent Hollywood blockbusters have used their artistic licence to share the stories of Noah and the book of Exodus, an innovative outreach tool that Jonathan openly welcomes.

“l think it’s fantastic, because if people are actually asking questions about whether things really happened or is that really true then a goal has been achieved because people are coming away from the cinema thinking what was actually going on there,” he adds. “lt encourages people to ask questions about faith and l believe we’re living in a world where biblical literacy is rapidly decreasing so if a film or song gets people talking about faith then I am all for it.”IMG_2279

Advertisements

christian testimony

KIRSTY BALFOUR

Kirsty Balfour
THE SIMPLE VERSE THAT INSPIRED OLYMPIC STAR

Kirsty Balfour made a. splash on the world stage of swimming, but her faith was the secret to her stroke…

Former European swimming champion Kirsty Balfour has revealed the importance that Scripture has played during her competitive career.

Scottish breaststroke ace Balfour won gold in the 200m at the European Long-Course Championships in 2006 before claiming silver in the same event at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne.

At 18 years of age Balfour had already been a Scottish champion and Commonwealth Games finalist — but she puts her success down to a healthy relationship with God.
“I prayed before competitions and when I was in the water,” she reveals. “One of my favourite verses in the Bible has to be Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do everything through him who strengthens me’.

“It is a very simple verse, but when I was l training or competing, feeling like I am just about to die, I know God was there in the water with me, and he would see me through.”

Edinburgh-born Balfour, who was part of the Team GB squad for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, became known for her humility in the pool and gives God all the glory for her success.

“I know that God has given me a talent, it’s something not of myself, and I am ultimately using that talent for his glory,” she once said.

Balfour’s journey saw her become the first British gold medallist in the pool at a European Championships since Anita Lonsborough’s 1964 success, though her path to the podium has seen her grow closer to God. “I think I was about seven when I gave my life to Jesus,” she remembers.

However, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that she started to think more seriously about what she believed. “I came to a point where I had to think through everything I believed again, and I have now made a firm commitment to follow Jesus Christ.
“Over the years my relationship with Jesus has grown a lot stronger and I feel closer to God.”

As many professional athletes would understand, Balfour was exposed to numerous temptations but always remained determined to express her faith when quizzed by her team-mates.

“Being a Christian is sometimes hard as there are things you feel are not right for you to do,” she adds. “Unlike a lot of my friends I don’t drink, but my friends know why and they respect what I believe. My swimming mates have asked me questions and it is good to be open about your faith.” .,

Following the 2008 Olympic Games Balfour revealed she would be retiring from the sport at just 24 to focus on serving her local church.

After eight years at the top of international swimming, Balfour married and announced she would be ‘doing a lot with the church and youth work’.

IMG_2275

christian testimony

JOEL WARD
Joel Ward
CRYSTAL CLEAR ABOUT MY FAITH!

He may be a Premier League player, but growing up in a Christian family has helped Joel Ward understand about what matters in life

Premier League ace Joel Ward has a message for football fans: Christians aren’t weirdoes!

The Crystal Palace full-back was part of the Eagles‘ promotion team in 2Ol3 and impressed in his first year in the top flight under new boss Tony Pulis.

Ward, 24, is a committed Christian who believes God has helped him reach the top. He wants to use his influence as a believer to help spread the gospel message.
He says, “For me [l want] to be able to be an influence in the world of football, in my club, in the league and lower leagues; to be able to stand up and to be known as a Christian. Christians can be into sports — we’re not weirdoes. We are normal people. l don’t think I’d be where l am if I didn’t have my faith. It’s probably been the biggest part of my life and in my career so far. l was very lucky, I’ve been brought up in a church and my parents were heavily involved in church and so was l from a young age.”

Ward joined the Selhurst Park outfit from Portsmouth in a £400,000 move. He is popular with their fans and has dreams of playing for England — but football isn’t the defender’s only priority.

“l realise football isn’t necessarily everything,” he says. “l grew up in a church and I’ve always had a passion for making an impact and being an influence in people’s lives, in a positive way and through the church.

l realise for a boy I’m blessed to do what l do but the most important thing for me is impacting and influencing lives in a way that is positive and for the good.

Growing up, football was always on Sundays and up until l was 16 I’d only played once a month and as a kid it was tough, because l love football. All l wanted to do is play, but my parents always told me to keep working hard, keep my head down and to keep moving forward.

“God’s my rock. When you’re injured or when you’re not on form or all the things that could go wrong are going wrong one at a time, at least God has my back, l can rest on him.

“I want to play at the higher level and one day wear the shirt with three lions. That will be a dream come true! I’m just going to keep my head down, keep doing what l do and work hard with all l have. No one knows what the future holds.”

IMG_2256

christian testimony

MARKHERON

Mark Heron
HOW DISNEY ARTIST WAS DRAWN TO FAITH

If you’re like us, then Disney films turn you into a big kid! The artist behind many of our best-loved characters, animator Mark Hero told about faith and Frozen…

Not many people are familiar with the name Mark Heron, but millions are fans of his work. In 33 years with Disney, Mark has animated a collection of characters including Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Tinkerbell, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Simba, Mulan, Tiana and, most recently, Anna and Elsa from the Oscar-winning
film Frozen. From his drawing desk in sunny California, Mark takes a short break
to talk over the phone about his successful career and how faith in God helps him through it.

“I’m a supervising animator and my speciality is traditional hand-drawn animation,” he explains. “I’m working on my 19th feature film, though I have also animated several other short films. It’s by God’s grace that I’m here, fulfilling my boyhood dream.”

As a child, Mark loved to draw and was fascinated by Disney films. He decided
that when he grew up, he wanted to be an animator for the company. “The idea of drawing and then seeing those drawings come to life grabbed me,” he says. “It still does. Each character I work on challenges me in different ways.

“A large part of my career has been spent animating Disney’s leading ladies and I enjoy that because they are at the heart of the stories. Arguably the lead roles are also the more difficult characters to animate, because they’re not necessarily the funniest or the ‘bad guy’ — and everyone loves a villain. When The Lion King came up, I really wanted to animate Scar because I’d never done a villain before. So I told the director that I had lots of design ideas for the character. He said, ‘You would do a great Scar, but we have a number of people who could create that character. Simba is the key to this film. If Simba doesn’t work, the
movie won’t work. We want you to work on Simba.’ I thought about it and decided to accept his challenge.”

Through his career, Mark has become an expert in drawing not only princesses and lions, but also mermaids, frogs, dogs and numerous other creatures. He thinks Disney’s style of storytelling has changed over the years.

“We tell deeper stories, these days,” he explains. “ln the early films — such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella — the leading ladies were a lot more reactionary. Things happened to them, they felt woeful and then dwarfs or mice came along to help them out.

“But with The Little Mermaid that traditional model began to change. When things happened to the character of Ariel, she took matters into her own hands. Her decisions propelled the story forwards.

“It’s the same with Frozen. The audience doesn’t know why Elsa has the gift of turning things to ice, but, in her efforts to deal with it, she makes decisions that result in the freezing of her entire community. She then has to work out what to
do next.”
Mark explains that creating a character can be a lengthy process.

“When stories initially are put into production, it’s the job of the visual development artists to think about what the characters are going to look like. They draw their ideas, then as a supervising animator I may add some of my own. We start mixing and matching pieces and hold meetings with the director of the film. They look at what we’ve come up with and highlight the things that they like or don’t like.

“Later, we begin to test the character with the actor’s voice, to see if it looks and
sounds natural. It’s a constant refining process.

“When I worked on The Lion King, I created Simba pretty quickly. I went to a meeting with the production team, put up some images and they said, ‘Yes. Looks good. Go and do a model sheet.’ The character was decided in an afternoon. But there are other characters that need a lot of experimental work before they’re ready.”

Last year, Mark was part of a team of animators who created and developed the characters in Frozen. As supervisor, he was free to turn his hand to all the characters, but his principle focus was on the heroines, Anna and Elsa, and the loveable snowman, Olaf.

“l was a bit like a coach,” he says. “My bosses asked me to use my experience in hand-drawing to help the computer- generation animators who don’t have the same artistic background. .

”So when I saw what the guys were doing on their computers, I offered advice such as, ‘Have you tried this expression?’ or, ‘Maybe this would be a better pose
for that character.’ Fortunately we have special computer screens, which means I can draw over the CG artists’ images.”

When Frozen hit the cinemas, audiences across the globe were enchanted. Earlier this year, the film won Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (for Let It Go). The story follows the journey of a young princess named Anna, who seeks to make peace with her sister, Elsa, after her icy powers have frozen the kingdom of Arendelle.

“It’s a great story — complete with a magical world, compelling characters, fabulous music and top animation,” says Mark. “Everything seemed to come together in the right place at the right time

Perhaps surprisingly, many Christian groups in America have been turning to up to Frozen to help them promote the gospel. Mark concedes that Anna’s display of sacrificial love could resemble the actions of Jesus. “The part in the film where Anna allows herself to be frozen to protect her sister is clearly a sacrifice, which is what Jesus did for us,” he says. “He made the greatest sacrifice of all on the cross. I can’t say that as a team we sat down and made the decision to base Anna on Jesus, but neither can we deny that the theme is there for churches to use as a teaching tool, should they want to.”

In January, The Guardian’s website picked up the faith thread of the story and
ran an article with the headline, “Disney’s Frozen might be the most Christian movie lately.” The article went on to quote Collin Garbarino, Assistant Professor of History at Houston Baptist University, who said the film may be ‘a better allegory for the Christian gospel than CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’.

“It doesn’t get much better than being compared to CS Lewis,” laughs Mark. “That’s fabulous. I think the theme of love is present in many Disney films, but perhaps in Frozen it is a little more pronounced.”

Mark became a Christian when he was a 19-year-old college student. He describes the way he came to faith as ‘a miracle’. He says, ”I grew up going to church, which gave me a clear idea of who God was and who Jesus was. But back then, I was all about me — my life and my ideas. I didn’t really understand what Jesus’ death on the cross meant.

“When I was at college, I received a phone call from Campus Crusade for Christ, an organisation that ran youth events and sport programmes. The guy on the phone asked if he could come over and talk to me, so I said yes. ”

When we met, he shared the gospel with me. He gave me a pamphlet that talked about putting God on the throne in my life, rather than myself. Suddenly I understood. I felt as though God had opened my eyes. I’m still not sure why I received that phone call, as I don’t remember having had any previous contact with Campus Crusade. But I see it as the miracle that brought me to faith.” Today, Mark sees his job as a gift from God and turns to him daily for help and inspiration.

“Without God, I couldn’t do my job,” he says. “There are times when life is so busy and I pray, ‘Lord, l just don’t know how I’m going to get all this work done. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Please get me through it.’ He always does.

“I see God as someone who I can turn to for help or forgiveness, no matter what
I’ve done. He’s always there. My faith in him means everything to me. I look on his Son, Jesus, as my best friend.”

Although faith plays a positive role in Mark’s life, being a Christian at work is not
always easy. In the past he has felt concerned about the language in particular
films.

“Sometimes I have talked with directors about not taking the Lord’s name in vain,” he says. ‘I’ll ask them, ‘Do we need to use that word?’ or I’ll suggest that we say it in another way. Generally, people know there’s a line that we don’t want to cross.

“A few years ago, some Christian colleagues of mine felt concerned about working on The Princess And The Frog, because the villain is a voodoo doctor. It
played on their conscience. But the way I saw it, Doctor Facilier was just the from the other Disney villains — and we also had Mama Odie’s character to represent the light and the good. In no way did the film celebrate voodoo. It was included in the story because it was culturally relevant for the setting of New Orleans at that particular time. I think we need to remember that the stories we tell are largely make-believe, so we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Our conversation is drawing to a close, and Mark needs to get back to the drawing board. He is ‘in the throes’ of animating the film Big Hero 6, which is due for release this month.

”It’s going to be vastly different from Frozen, because we don’t want to sit back
and make the same kind of films over and over again,” he says.

IMG_2275

christian testimony

Alex Owumi

Alex Owurni

TEST OF MY FAITH IN A WAR ZONE

Strong, talented and international, Alex Owurni had it all in his life as a journeyman basketball player Wandering Europe’s top leagues. Then he started playing for a team in Libya and things took a dramatic turn…

‘I was living in hell. My days were dark and they were getting darker. There was no light.”

Alex Owumi’s remarkable story reads a lot like Job’s in the Bible. From the lap of luxury travelling on a private jet plane week, to living off worms the next, he found himself in the eye of the storm at he heart of the Libyan civil war.

Born in Nigeria, Alex’s family moved to his mother’s homeland when he was 1 and we joined mum’s church there.

“My family is deep into the church! We support the church financially and giving our time and things like that. I still do that. That’s just a part of my life,” he laughs.

Though African by birth, Alex is most definitely a product of the American scholarship programme that funds skilled athletes through college.

“l played at the highest level, which is where most of the eventual professional basketball players in America play,” he says.

“There are opportunities to make money playing basketball all over the world. My dream was to play in the NBA, but God told me that wouldn’t happen. He had a different plan”.

Though the young Alex was crushed by the word he heard from God that the NBA wasn’t looking for him, looking back, he cn see that it spurred him on to work harder and make the most of his talent. It was developing his skill that took him to Libya in the first place, though.

I had a contract to play in Macedonia. I was there for two-and-a –half, maybe three months, but the playing conditions were terrible! I was racially abused at every away game, so I had to get out of there. I wanted to get out of that situation, so I talked to my agent.

“A couple of days later he told me a team in Libya wanted me to come and help them out, and I jumped at it right away. It was in Africa where I grew up, so I was not nervous about going back at all. I knew it was an opportunity.”

Alex arrived in Benghazi in December 2010 and the journeyman point guard found himself fin the lap of luxury. Flown to away games on a private jet, given bonuses for winning and able to eat — and shop — for free because he was the star of the Gaddafi family team, Alex had little idea what was in store.

“I didn’t know the Arab Spring was going to jump off! Nobody knew it was coming,” he recalls.

“But on February 17, 2011, at about 9:15am, I go on to the rooftop and see

200, maybe 300 protesters outside a police station across the street.

“A military convoy is coming closer and closer. Then, without warning, shots. People running, people falling. Dead bodies all over the ground. I’m praying, praying that this is a dream, that I will wake up sometime soon.”

It wasn’t a dream. To make matters worse, the hookworms that had infectedstill in his system.

Sick, alone and used to the high quality diet of a professional athlete, Alex found himself trapped in the luxurious flat his playing had earned him.

“It was very hard on me. I had no power and no water. The food I had left over was gone in a day or two. I rationed the little water I had for four or five days, then it was gone. When the hunger pains got really bad, I started eating cockroaches and worms that I picked out of the flower-pots on my windowsill.

“I’m blessed to be a Christian. But you start to question God. It’s hard for me to say, because this is something I never did in church, but you start to ask, ‘How could God put somebody through something like this?’ The kids I played soccer with on the street — they have turned into rebels now, with their own shotguns and machetes. Regular life is over – it’s every man for himself.”

But in among the questions, the agony of starvation, lack of water and disease, Alex found that God was there in the midst of the suffering. “I was nearly dying, but I would lie ofn the floor with bombs and guns going off all around thinking about all the blessings I’d had in my life and I would cry tears of joy.

“I was just grateful for my life. God put answers in front of me. I’m not going to say I figured it out while I was there. I figured it out when I was home much later. But God could have brought any 26-year-old and put them there, but he put me there. He knew I would make it through. I had to go there to figure out God’s plan. I’ve been to hell, and the devil had his hand on me, but at the end of the day God works overtime.”

Now, Alex lives with the legacy of that harrowing experience, but has written his story to inspire others. “Living every day, l call that the beautiful struggle,” he says. “l have to say my normal prayer and read the Bible. I wake up and I say, ‘You know what God? However the day goes, your plan is good’. When people read my book, I want them to feel like they’re taking a walk with god. It shows that no matter the obstacle, you can break it down. This is what God did for me, and if He did this for me, He can do it for you”.

IMG_2227

 

christian testimony

stewartcink

Stewart Cink
JESUS HELPED ME GET LIFE

A golfer says becoming a Christian has made him a better husband and father. American Stewart Cink, who lifted the 2009 Open Championship, has become one of the world’s most skilled golfers having spent the last few years in the world top ten ranking.

The 6ft 4in star, who lives in Georgia, used to be obsessed with golf until a friend asked him a very important question.

“I don’t think I saw the church doors for three or four years,” Cink, 40, recalls.
“l took a detour. It wasn’t a Christian detour. I was always at the golf course. One day a friend asked me, ‘lf you died today, would you go to heaven?” The golfing superstar thought he had the answer. “I had a list in my pocket, figuratively, of course,” he says. “Are you a good person? Are you nice to people? I had a checklist that would go on for hours and I, of course, had checked all the right boxes. I had to take a look at the man in the mirror.”

Some six years later Cink surrendered his life to God and decided to become a Christian.

“Though it took me a few years, the most important lesson I ever learned was that the way to heaven leads directly through Jesus Christ and only through him,” he says.

“My relationship with Christ is now the central part of my life. I am a better father to my two boys. I am a better husband to my wife; and I am a better golfer now that the Lord is walking with me in the fairways and through the rough.

“I’ve always relied on my faith really heavily and have never been afraid to talk about that with people — whether it’s media, friends, whatever. And I really believe that’s the rock I have.

“I’ve been through a lot. Anybody that plays golf out here for a long enough time goes through some ups and downs and I’ve been through both of them. And the one thing I always have with me, whether it’s up or down, is my faith.”

IMG_2219

christian testimony

benhampshire

Ben Hampshire
REAL LIFE
WHY I BELIEVE

Ben Hampshire is a Yorkshire journalist for Sky Sports

Who introduced you to Jesus? A girl called Kerry who I met in the second year of college helped me to unpack some big questions I’d been having concerning the death of my grandparents. I was constantly seeking answers and she patiently helped me process things.

One day she handed me a DVD presented by a well-known evangelist (Mark Ritchie) and as I watched the footage I felt the overwhelming, loving embrace of God. The following day Kerry was alongside me as I prayed and gave my life to Jesus.

There is no question that building good friendships with people and being willing to explore complex issues can have a profound impact on their journey. I will always be grateful for the way in which God moved through Kerry.

WHAT DO YOU DO? TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR LIFE

I am a journalist at Sky Sports. I graduated from Leeds Trinity University in the summer of 2013 and have been plying my trade with Sky’s online team in Leeds ever since. When I’m not glued to live sport or my Twitter feed, you will almost certainly find me in Barnsley. I love the town immensely and am really excited about having the opportunity to meet young people and share the gospel and pray for them.

WHY DO YOU BELIEVE?

When I look back over my life I see the undeniable outline of a great architect joining the dots to bring me to where I am today. In small things and big things I find myself overwhelmed by God’s goodness.

Many people have ‘God moments’ and I think that, for me, it comes down to the fact that he saw me at the beginning, he sees who I am today, and he has an out¬line marked for my future. It’s a breathtaking thought.

DO YOU EVER DOUBT GOD?

I recently attended two desperately sad funerals – the kind where it’s next-to-impossible to know what to say – and they made me realise that even when I don’t know what to believe, I can at least know who I believe in. My doubts and questions regularly ‘make themselves known’, but they don’t frighten me and I don’t think they frighten God either. In fact, I think God helps us turn our doubts into a deeper faith and a richer experience.
Has there been one particular moment that has denned your faith?

The dynamic of my journey has recently shifted. All my life I have been quite academically-minded; systematically learning how things work. My mantra in education, in the
newsroom and in faith has always been: ‘Prepare, study, win.’

But 2 Timothy 1:12 says, “I know whom I have believed.” I’ve discovered that faith isn’t pinned on my ability to prepare, but on the character of Jesus. I realised all over again that what Jesus wants from me is a personal, intimate walk.

Sum up your experience of being a Christian in one sentence Following Jesus is an exhilarating, often unpredictable journey of growth and grace, directed by an ever-consistent Saviour.

IMG_2277

christian testimony

williamwade

William Wade
A RADICAL CONVERSION

William Wade was nicknamed the punching preacher after his radical conversion to Christ. But life could have been so different

William Wade can be found on the front line — preaching not only to soldiers on the battlefield but even to members of royalty. The dad-of-two lives in Germany, where he shares the gospel with soldiers in his role as an evangelist for the Soldiers and Airmen Scripture Readers’ Association (SASRA).

“God has allowed me to share the gospel with tens of thousands of British soldiers,” the 43-year-old says.

“l have found that with God, he rewrites the script of your life. It seems that God can take even the ‘wasters’ of this life and turn them into vessels for his service. just last year l was able to share the gospel at the Guards’ Chapel in London with Prince Philip sitting in the front row of the packed church.”

Life could have been very different for William if he hadn’t visited an Elim church one evening as a teenager. As a young man his life seemed mapped out for him. Caught up in the Irish troubles, William had dedicated himself to the loyalist cause and at the age of l6 he was into drink and drugs. His life was on a downward spiral.

“l was born into a Loyalist family in Belfast in I970,” William explains. “The troubles came to shape my upbringing in the form of religious perception, political persuasion and eventually criminal conviction.

“My father was involved in the Troubles and was vehemently pro-UDA (Ulster Defence Association). l remember my mother telling me of the night when the local UDA had taken over a Church of Ireland church and my father was at the front rallying the troops for action. His viewpoints came to be mine, as with most fathers and sons, and this spelled trouble for the future.

“By the time I was I6, I was sniffing glue, was a keen magic mushroom taker, a heavy drinker and a committed young Loyalist. I had given my life over to my father’s cause, and it was
now my cause.

“I had five criminal convictions on my police record and had been expelled from school. At one visit to the police station, I was told by the duty officer
that I would be a ‘waster’ for the rest of my life.”

But a surprise invitation changed everything.

“One Saturday night on our housing estate, two 15-year-old girls gate-crashed a party I was having,” William recalls.

“When they walked into the middle of the room full drunk young men, we were expecting a bit of fun, but they were to surprise us with their bravery. One of the girls turned off the music and they went on to tell us that God loved us, that Jesus Christ died for us and that we needed to get ‘right’ with him.

“They spoke of being saved, born again and of being forgiven of their sin. They told us we could be forgiven too, but that we needed to ‘repent’ and live for God. It was all very bizarre.

“They then left by inviting us to their gospel service the next evening, and we said that we would go, just so that we could get rid of them. They left and we joked about what had just happened, and carried on drinking.

“The next evening the two girls just happened to bump into us and tried to hold us to our promise. We tried every possible excuse not to go with them, but they were fierce in their persuasion. So we came up with the bright idea that we could go and have a bit of a laugh.”

The church was Green-island Elim Pentecostal Church (which later merged with Carrick Elim) and the pastor was Tommy Latimer.

“Seven of us sat along the back row of the tiny corrugated iron hut and made a mockery of all that was going on — right up until Tommy started preaching,” says William. “He addressed us at the back and told us that we were all sinners, but that God loved us, and he went on to explain the extent of that love; the death of God’s own Son on
the cross.

“He challenged us to respond by repenting and giving our lives to Jesus Christ. We left the meeting that night and tried to shake it off, but couldn’t. God spoke to me and two Sunday evenings later, four of us committed our lives to Jesus Christ.”

This set into motion a chain of events which saw William join the Royal Irish Rangers, where he served seven years. Becoming the undefeated Regimental
boxing champion earned him the title ‘Punching Preacher’.

William joined SASRA 12 years ago. “I preached my first sermon in Saudi Arabia, just after the 1991 Gulf War, in front of around IOO soldiers on the theme of ‘you must be born again’.

“I am married to Tulsi, a committed Christian, and have two daughters. And from being someone who was expelled from school, I have since gone on to earn a BTh, an MA and am halfway through a PhD. Praise God – he saves, he transforms and he keeps!”

IMG_2256

christian testimony

rachaelwebster

Rachael Webster
MUM TELLS OF HER LIFE AS A CALL GIRL

Mum-of-three Rachael Rachael Webster was a has a dramatic story to tell. From a fragmented childhood to being a tearaway teen; from glamorous boutiques gangsters to sinister men; and from depressive illnesses to becoming a bestselling author.

“My childhood was full of upheaval, we were constantly moving house. By the age of 16 I had attended 18 different schools,” she says. “But from a young age I always wanted to help others. I still remember as a seven-year—old saying, ‘I want to help people.’ I loved my younger sister and would do anything to protect her. Caring for her gave me an enormous sense of purpose.”
As a young woman in her early 20s, Rachael was a mother-of-one, full of ambition, but living in a council house, drinking heavily and desperately needing to make ends meet.

”I was curious about the world,” she says. “I craved excitement, I wanted independence. I rebelled against authority, rules, the system, the government — anybody who I perceived had an agenda to control me. But most of all I loved my daughter and would do anything to provide for her.”

That desire ‘to provide’ took her to unexpected and sometimes dangerous places. In I994, Rachael answered an advert in her local paper saying ‘girls wanted’ and began a double life which led to her moving to London.

By day she was a single mum sending money home to her mother who was caring for her little girl; by night she was in the hazardous business of entertaining criminals, gangsters, celebrities and addicts in the crazy world of escorting. If she could stay alive, she could earn more than £10,000 a month.

”| simply didn’t have any boundaries or parameters and therefore kept putting myself in risky, life-threatening environments,” she recalls. “I was on the streets for 15 years — from the age of 22 until I was 37. I grew street smart and learned to live on my wits. I became wiser and was able to discern sinister characters from harmless ones The party lifestyle is one of extremes — the highs and the lows are sharply pronounced. One moment I’d be clad in glamorous designer dresses by Karen Millen or showcasing the latest luxury Donna Karen shoes thinking, ‘Yes! I’ve hit the big time!’ But the next moment I’d be blacking out somewhere because of my terrible drinking habit.

“Emotionally, I went to some very dark places… sometimes it felt like I was stood at the gateway to hell. Being showered with clothes and cash and expensive gifts from clients came at a high price. I didn’t belong to myself any more. I was not in control of my own choices. Instead of being empowered, I felt less in control than ever.”

The influence of Rachael’s mother played a pivotal role in the formation of her values and worldview. ”My mother was a staunch Christian and constantly lived with an awareness of a higher power,” she says. ”| loved her so much because even though she hated what I did, she allowed me to make my own choices. She never controlled, manipulated or made me feel guilty. She just had this huge, maternal concern for my welfare — which is why she kept on praying. I believe her prayers kept me alive in some very dangerous places.”

In 2010, Rachael’s mother died after a battle with cancer and in the ensuing grief Rachael herself fell ill with a swelling of the brain associated with the physical stress of bereavement.

“My mother’s death almost led to my own,” she recalls. “It was a frightening, desperate period of time.”

But there was light at the end of the tunnel. After her mother’s death, Rachael turned her back on escorting and became a Christian. Her life has completely turned around and she is now fulfilling her life-long dream of helping others.

“During my illness I promised God that if I survived I would do something incredible with my life. I’m convinced that one of the reasons God has brought me back from the brink so many times is for my story to comfort and inspire abused children from other desperate backgrounds.”

Rachael has written an account of her life story which has already become a
bestseller on Amazon.

‘The First Floor’ provides a gripping, honest insight into the life of an escort girl, documenting the drama, danger and fresh optimism that characterises Rachael’s demeanour.

“l want my book to be successful so I can find even more ways to impact the
lives of troubled and abused children. I’m currently in talks with a film producer about documenting my story in order to reach as many people as I can.”

So how does this former call girl sum up her new ‘calling’?

“I am a lover of human life: first, last and always. Everybody has a spirit and a soul and regardless of what they’ve done, everybody has a right to be loved. It is our duty to love others as we love ourselves.”

IMG_2219

christian testimony

MICHAELCHANG

Michael Chang
“LOVE’S ALL I NEED “ SAYS TENNIS STAR

AMERICAN tennis star, Michael Chang stormed, into the record books in – 1989, becoming the youngest ever Grand Slam champion – but insists without God he is nothing.

Renowned for his on court speed and dogged resilience, Chang became known as; one of the best baseline defensive players o all-time.
HE TURNED PROFESSIONAL IN 1988 and enjoyed the finest year of his careeq a year later, beating Swedish ace Stefan Egberg, and Czech. star Ivan Lendel on his way to claiming the French Open title at just 17 years old.

Upon lifting the crown at Roland Garros, Chang’s acceptance speech raised several eyebrows and sparked boos from the crowd.

‘Without him, ‘I’m nothing,“ he told the Parisian supporters as he spoke of his Christian Faiths.

Although free-flowing-,criticism flowed from thereon, Chang, remained, undeterred, and is the14th top earning tennis player in the world, with a career prize fund in excess of more than £12 million after claiming 34 singles titles. “I’ve just received so much joy, so much love, and so many blessings from the Lord,” he said.
“I do a Bible Study first thing in the morning and also at night. Throughout the day, I’ll pray – whenever – because the Lord is always there. He teaches me a lot through circumstances in my life, whether it’s a tennis match or other things that are going on”.

IMG_2276

« Older entries